Tag: Orphan Train

Dec 02

Orphan Train: A Novel by Christina Baker Kline

Coming of Age, Historical Fiction 41

Hey Bookworms,

I hope you’ve all slept off your tryptophan stupors and that you had the Happiest of Thanksgivings in the process. I must admit, I didn’t get a whole lot of reading done this weekend. There was so much decking of the halls to be done! Luckily, I did manage to finish a book, so why don’t we talk about it?

orphantrainThis weekend I finished reading Orphan Train: A Novel by Christina Baker Kline. History Lesson! Did you know that from the 1850s to the 1930s in the good old US of A, orphaned, homeless, and abandoned children from the East Coast were transported to the Midwest via train in hopes they’d be taken in? If you had the bad luck to lose your family to dysentery or whatever while living as a minor in NYC? They’d snap you up and ship you off to places where kids and/or farmhands were in short supply. (Now I LOVE the Midwest. It’s home to me. But to an Irish immigrant kid by way of New York City? Culture shock, much?)

This book employs a dual narrative, which I rather enjoy as a matter of course. One half of the narrative is told from Molly’s point of view. Molly’s story comes to us from the modern day. She’s been in foster care for a good chunk of her childhood, and she hasn’t had the easiest time of it. One day she gets caught trying to steal the rattiest copy of Jane Eyre from the library and is sentenced to 50 hours of community service. C’mon, TOWN! Foster girl just wanted to get her classics on! Why you gotta be so mean?!

Thanks to Molly’s boyfriend’s mom’s employer (got that?!), Molly gets hooked up with a way to kill off some of those hours by working for Vivian, a nonagenarian with a really cluttered attic. As the the attic project commences, Vivian begins telling Molly about her youth aboard the Orphan Train.

The foster care system can suck pretty hard. There are a great many foster caregivers every trying to do their best by children in need, but it’s certainly not an easy road. If it weren’t enough that the kids had to deal with a screwed up childhood without their parents for whatever reason, there are occasionally a few rotten apples who choose to be foster parents not out of caring, but out of a desire for the monthly stipend. As crappy as all that is, at least these days kids get to keep their names. Yeah, guys. Names. You get stuck on an Orphan Train back in the day and you’ve got an ethnic sounding name? Fuggedaboudit. Vivian’s name was Niamh (which is super Irish and pronounced “Neev.”) Then it was changed to Dorothy. Then Vivian. I mean, the girl was old enough to know her doggone name! Like it’s not traumatic enough to be virtually auctioned off like chattel, you get to lose the last shred of your identity while you’re at it. That’s some bull crap right there, history.

There was one part of the story that bothered me, but to go into specifics I’d have to get spoiler-y. If you’ve read it, you can probably guess what I’m talking about. It has to do with the second Margaret… And ?!?!?!?!?!?! All in all though, I really liked this book. It was a fast read and it hit all the historical high notes I adore in a novel. I can see this book appealing to fans of historical fiction and those who are interested in the plights of society’s underdogs. If you have any interest at all, I highly recommend this book.

Alright, Bookworms. Let’s talk about names for a second. Most of us have no say in choosing our names (unless you change yours for some reason, which is expensive and time consuming) but they have a huge impact on our identities. Do you ever feel like you were given the “wrong” name, or do you feel like it’s become an important part of who you are? 

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